Columbus, Ohio — Ohio State reached an unspecified settlement with nearly half of the roughly 350 men who say they were sexually abused decades ago by a team doctor who was jokingly known among some athletes by nicknames like “Dr. Jelly Paws."
The settlement announced Friday is the first for accusers of the late doctor, Richard Strauss, who they say groped and otherwise mistreated students for two decades while school officials who knew of concerns did little to stop him.
Ohio State wouldn’t disclose the dollar amount but said in a statement that a special overseer independent of the university will help allocate the funds to individual accusers based on their experiences and the harm done. Those payments will come from “existing institutional discretionary funding,” not tuition or taxpayer or donor money, according to the school.
Rick Schulte, a lawyer who represented former Ohio State football players, wrestlers and other athletes, said the settlement will help the men move forward and heal.
“The bravery of our clients is humbling,” Schulte said in the statement shared by the university. “We are pleased that Ohio State stepped forward and did the right thing.”
Ohio State wouldn’t disclose details, and it was unclear whether specifics of the settlement had yet been discussed with or approved by the plaintiffs who the school said were affected. A message seeking further comment was left for Schulte, identified as the plaintiffs’ lead negotiator for the agreement.
It remains to be seen how the settlement might compare with those from other recent sexual misconduct scandals at major universities, including Michigan State’s $500-million settlement for 500-plus victims of imprisoned sports doctor Larry Nassar.
Lawsuits by other Strauss accusers remain unresolved after months of mediation, and they have asked a judge to let them resume litigation. The most vocal among them have argued for a settlement costly enough to convey that Ohio State and schools can’t let abuse happen again.
“Strauss’ conduct was reprehensible, and the university’s failures at the time are completely unacceptable,” Ohio State President Michael Drake said in the Friday statement. “While nothing can undo what happened here years ago, today’s university has a responsibility to support our former students and alumni, and this initial settlement is another important step in the process of restorative justice.”
Some of the accusers said they felt their federal lawsuits against the school were their only way to seek justice and accountability now because they can’t confront Strauss, who died in 2005.
As more accusers came forward or sued, the university learned of about 1,500 alleged instances of decades-old sexual misconduct by Strauss, and old records and new interviews revealed a much different portrait of him from the one implied by his unblemished employment file.
Alumni began sharing stories of being groped during mandatory medical exams, and one former athlete described being drugged and raped. Other ex-athletes recalled a voyeuristic doctor who showered in their locker rooms and was joked about as “Dr. Jelly Paws.”
In an investigation conducted for the school, a law firm concluded Strauss sexually abused young men between 1979 and 1997 in medical exams at campus athletic facilities, the student health center, his off-campus men’s clinic and his home. Though concerns were raised with athletics and student health officials, none reported Strauss to law enforcement or regulators.
When the State Medical Board of Ohio eventually investigated him in 1996 after he complained about another physician, credible evidence about Strauss’ sexual misconduct was ignored and, inexplicably, no action was taken against him, according to a state panel’s review of the old investigation.
No one has publicly defended Strauss as dozens of men have recounted how the abuse has caused long-lasting harm to their health and relationships.
In lawsuits against Ohio State, they alleged the school violated the federal Title IX law that bars sex discrimination in education. The university initially argued those claims were time-barred by law.
Beyond the litigation, Ohio State and some of its former employees face more scrutiny.
The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights has said it is examining whether the school responded “promptly and equitably” to students’ complaints.
And Ohio’s medical board is reviewing whether there are any licensed Ohio doctors who knew or suspected Strauss’ misconduct and should have reported it but didn’t. If so, they could face disciplinary action, though Ohio’s window for criminally prosecuting that has passed.
The medical board also is reviewing about 2,000 closed cases of alleged sexual misconduct or impropriety by doctors over the past 25 years to determine whether any others involved evidence of criminal behavior that was ignored.
Strauss’ personnel records indicate he worked at five other schools before Ohio State. None of those has said any concerns were raised about him.
The claims about Strauss are strikingly similar to allegations made public this year alleging decades-old abuse by another sports doctor who worked at the University of Michigan during the same era.